Maurice Manning

Big with wonder and daylight behind it,
my head’s shadow fell on the floor
of the open root cellar door
and the thousandlegger crept inside it
with careful, sideways ticking steps
over the cold dirt, preferring
the round defining darkness made
from the dome I carried on my shoulders
to contain what knowledge I had and fear,
and images I’d conjured to fear
and fathom and trick what I thought were thoughts,
but only fancies, occupations
of a mind so slow in forming itself
from instinct, but also being formed
by the world unerring in a course
the mind learns in time to accept,
to approach, though not agree to, fate,
because the mind holds out for truth,
as dewdrops cling to a spider web
or, even as it falls, a shadow
darkens the dark already there,
and truth becomes the contrast, counter,
exception clenched against a cold,
annihilating sense of fate,
if only to believe we are saved.
Not that the human quandary bloomed
in my mind that day when I opened the door.
Fetch me five potatoes, she’d said,
and don’t forget to pinch their eyes,
and returned from the porch to the hot kitchen.
Even potatoes were alive
and my obligation was to blind them—
fancy, perhaps, but I went down
halfway to the underworld
and saw on the floor my living shadow,
not a reflection, but a mark,
a second presence I didn’t know
but suddenly divined, as the bug
born in the dark to see in the dark,
slipped inside it like a thought,
and I wondered if it stayed how long
it would, and whether I would feel it
twitching its legs or simply know
it’s there to form the other thoughts,
or stand against them in silent proof,
hence the wonder in my head
and the image of its shadow still alive.

Maurice Manning‘s most recent book is Railsplitter. He teaches at Transylvania University and in the MFA Program for Writers at Warren Wilson College. He lives with his family in Kentucky. 

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